Sunday, August 30, 2009

How I Survived Camping with an iPod and $7

Okay, maybe the title is a bit dramatic, but it is warranted.

So, on Friday, Oh-nee said that we would be going to Jecheon on Saturday. Not having the slightest clue where or what that meant, I pulled out my Korea travel guide, located Jecheon and found out what was there. Oh-nee pointed to a cave and said, "Amy camera bring!" Okay, okay. Sounds good.

So, 8 am we left for this Jecheon cave. Oh-nee packed a huge cooler (I saw her making Kimbab earlier and couldn't wait for lunch!) As we were heading out, each person took a light jacket and two pairs of shoes (sandals and sneakers). I thought that was a bit odd; it should have been my first clue. But, then again, Koreans are really sensitive about shoes. They wear sandals all the time except when playing sports (and even then, there are a few still clinging to their sandals). So, at the last minute I grabbed a light jacket and my purse (which contained my wallet and iPod. I stuffed my jacket in my purse and headed out the door. At the last second, Oh-nee stuffed some boxer shorts in a bag. I thought that was weird... maybe we were going to sweat a lot?

I'm sure you know where I am going with this. After five hours of driving, we arrived at the cave. It was huge. One thing about the caves in Korea is the absence of liability. So there were really slippery paths, VERY low ceilings (I was completely squatting at one point) and everything could be touched. Cool! After the cave we went to this nice little lake. It was very pretty and peaceful.

Family Picture in the Cave
(Dad is taking the picture)

The Nice Little Lake
(Where things started to come together)

It was here that I started to piece together the truth. The boys kept talking about watching the Simpsons. Wha? "How?" I asked Oh-Chahn. "At the hotel!" he answered excitedly. Uh-oh. Really? I looked down at my shirt, pants and $30 E-Mart (like a Wal-Mart) shoes. Suddenly my contacts seemed really itchy, my teeth felt dirty and I noticed every droplet of sweat on my body. Hmm, this will be interesting.

I explained that I needed some essentials, and was promised that we could go shopping. Great! Sounds good. But, I come to find out that we are, in fact, in the middle of nowhere and that the biggest shopping area consists of the hotel gift shop. I managed to find a men's t-shirt, men's socks and a toothbrush for $7. The contact solution had to be imported. :) AKA, the hotel owners (which I think my family knew, because we were, at one point, in their house watching the baseball game) had a friend from the nearest civilization over bring solution. (No case. Haha, I had to soak them in two bowls.)

The "hotel" we stayed at was more of a series of river-side rooms. All eating was done outside in picnic areas. It was beautiful. Very Korean. It was also located at the base of a mountain with a lot of Buddhist temples. I had my very own Korean room:

I actually slept like a baby

The next morning Oh-nee woke me up pretty early. I figured she wanted to get a good start out of here. After all, checkout is around 9 am, right? Well, we actually end up going on a hike. ::sigh:: There I was, in dirty jeans and an over sized t-shirt with a dorky smile across my face. Eyeing my dad's shoes - hard-core hiking boots - and Oh-nee's backpack full of water, I began to get a sinking feeling that this might be a repeat of my Songnisan climb.

We started the climb. It was straight up from the get-go. I was definitely huffing and puffing. I almost wanted to cry when, after an 45 minutes of intense (and, to my dismay, sweaty) climbing we came to a sign that pointed two directions: "Where we came from - 1.5 km" and "The peak - 3.4 km)." But, with my smile stapled on my face, I kept climbing. Luckily, we actually stopped about five minutes after the sign at a beautiful temple. I was also very satisfied with the view, no need to keep going!

After the hike we had lunch, packed up the car and bounced. The car ride was a little smelly (probably me, haha!) and long, but overall very memorable. My favorite story: The boys were fighting, so my dad turned around and pinched the ends of their noses. The tips of their noses turned bright red, I had to turn away to keep from laughing since it looked like it hurt. Soon, they realized that their noses were red. After that I couldn't hold it in any longer. The rest of the night we all kept laughing at their noses.

Okay, so that was my weekend adventure. Pretty crazy, huh? I know I didn't mention my iPod, but I did use it a lot to keep me sane in the car. Sometimes it's nice to hear someone yelling at me in a language I understand. Okay, time to do some lesson planning.

By the way, Kia Tigers came up from a 1-0 score in the 8th inning to slamming a grand slam and another home run to win the game. I've never seen boys so happy.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

I say, "Sounds Good," a lot

I have officially completed my first week of classes. Everyday was a new, short adventure, to say the least. First topic: the teachers lounge. The teachers lounge is kind of one of those dream-like places. You know, the ones that don't quite feel real. Maybe there was fog or some kind of strange, magical creature? Yeah, that's the Gurye High teachers lounge. Teachers sleep a lot. They just kind of lean back in their chairs and shut their eyes. I sit between the Chinese teacher (very nice) and a Korean lit teacher. The Korean lit teacher is a romantic. :) I'm completely in love. He's this funny little 60-something who is always doing something interesting. In fact, just now, I glanced at him while typing. For some reason unbeknownst to me, he has a post-it folded over the bridge of his nose where his glasses rest. It is pink. I don't know his name, so I call him "Norman" in my mind.

I face my Vice Principal's desk. He really wants to learn English, so we have a lot of random chats. I think he uses an online translator to come up with a new conversation phrase every day. It's great that he wants to learn, but it is always awkward when I struggle to understand him, especially after he practices. And it's even more awkward to correct him. I try not to, but he's really insistent on getting it right. For example, today he said:

VP: Amy, your rifle is donging Gurye?
Me: [Blank stare] Sorry, say it slower.
VP: Amy! Your rife is doing in Gurye?
Me: [Brief pause] Oh, my life! Yes, my life is doing very well in Gurye. Thank you.
VP: Did I say it right?
Me: Yes, yes. Sounds good.
VP: No, no. I mean, I say it right?
Me: Sure. You could also just say, "How are you doing?"
VP: How are you doing?
Me: Yeah, they mean the same thing. Both are okay.
VP: [Smiles and turns back to paperwork]
Me: [Smiles and slowly moves back toward computer work]

Always keeps me on my toes.

I also love the dress code. I mean, what could ever be wrong about wearing jeans and slippers all day?

My classroom (pictures soon, I've just been so busy!) is pretty sweet. The computer is straight from hell, but other than that, the room is solid. I have five bookshelves of American classics as well as the complete Harry Potter set and the beginning three books to "A Series of Unfortunate Events." I also have one shelf of American movies. Score!
Funny story about my computer. So, today it took over 30 minutes to turn on. I had a bad feeling about it today, so I came mentally prepared to transfer my PowerPoint to the white board. Sure enough, the bell rang and my stupid computer had some crazy Korean message flashing across the screen. So, 10 minutes into my terrible white board lesson, the computer came to life! Thank goodness because the lesson was turning pretty far south without it.

I guess word of my computer troubles got around, because I left for lunch and came back an hour later to find a bunch of wires and a hole where my CPU use to be. 10 minutes before class. Awesome. :) No matter, I turned up the energy and somehow had one of my best lessons all week. "Sounds good," has been my mantra all week.

My Korean readers will get a kick out of this: Every day after lunch, at least one person cannot believe that I eat Kimchee and at least one person is amazed I can use chopsticks. Yep. It's those little things that make me a hero.

Okay, I hope that brightened your Friday a little. (It did for me!) I'm getting ready to hop on my scooter and, with the wind on my face, scoot away. Haha, thanks for reading!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

No Such Thing as a Patience Pill

I just finished Day 3 of teaching. You'll be happy to know that I am, in fact, still alive and kicking. Teaching is tough for different reasons than I initially thought. I don't think the kids are bad. The language barrier interferes a little, but it mostly acts as comedic relief. I just never thought I would get so tired. It seems that each class just kind of sucks the juice from me. And, since I am the new kid and I have a very unique position in the school, I always have to have my On-Face. It's like I'm being graded every second that I am out of my apartment. And even when I get home, I am still a guest. I still have to be "On." It's not that I'm complaining about it (I realize that this might sound a bit whiny). It's just that I'm learning just how much it takes. Nothing in life is easy. There is no patience pill or time stopper. So you just have to figure out what you need from you to make it through the day, week, month, year.

I also developed this annoying little habit of trying to see how everything can be a lesson. Ahhh! Is this how teachers think!?

Okay, on to the good stuff from my first few days of teaching. I teach three kinds of classes: all-levels freshman, split-levels freshman and all-levels sophomores. High schools only have three years here, so the only students I do not teach are the seniors. All-level classes means that the classes are mixed with beginner, intermediate and advanced English speakers. The split-level means that they are divided by ability. So, in sum, I see each freshman twice a week and each sophomore once.

In my "all-level" classes, we played a game that required the students to write down six facts about themselves. Here are some of my favorite answers:

"My favorite food is hot fish water"
"Random fact: I am handsome"
"Random fact: I am Jesus"
"I want to visit Hell"
"My name is Harry Potter." (This was a girl. Her Korean name is Hah Rae Paht)
"My name is Madonna"
"My name is David Beckham."
"My favorite hobby is kissing."
There are dozens more, but those were especially good. Another funny encounter:

Student: "Teacher, you look like Hilary..." she paused and I thought, "Please, please don't say Clinton." But she finished with "...Duff!"
Me: [Very much relieved that I wasn't confused with a 61-year old politician] "Thank you!"

I received my scooter today. Yikes! I am a little nervous! The past few days I have been using a happy little bicycle, but I have traded it in for a happy little moped.

Not gonna lie, it was a little interesting the first time I took it out. But, I woke up early this morning and practiced, so I think I got it now.

Well, I started this post Wednesday afternoon. It is now Thursday morning. Yikes! Busy busy! Thanks for reading, hopefully I'll post more soon... :)

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Last Day of Summer

It is official, I begin school tomorrow. I ran through my lesson plans, packed my bags with teacher goodies (markers, paper, etc.) and ran through my speech. Yikes, such a big day! I will be sure to post about it.

This morning started off pretty calm. But never let the morning fool you. At about 10 am, I got recruited for a baseball game. It felt pretty odd, being this strange white girl among 7 young Korean boys. I just kind of floated around, as I had NO idea what any of them were saying.

Well, apparently all of my T-ball experience from the first grade paid off, because I held my own in the game. I even smacked a home run. I've never been on this level with boys, so it was a completely new experience. There were a lot of scuffles. Most of which the other boys stopped, but a few where I had to throw myself in. I left a little early (and I think a fight broke out as I did) to meet up with the few, the proud: the other white people in Gurye. Yes. The legend is true. They do exist.

The past ETA left me their names and phone numbers. Thank goodness, I was beginning to think that the girl in the mirror looked funny. I had egg kimbab. Mmm. So good. Next to bibimbop, I think it's my favorite Korean dish.

The unfortunate side of my day is that, between two and a half hours of baseball and another hour of walking around, I got sunburn. Well, I think it stinks, especially since I have school tomorrow and no access to aloe. But my host brothers think it's hilarious. "Amy! Red!" My Oh-nee thinks its because I didn't wear sunglasses. Sometimes, you just have to laugh along at yourself.

The funeral for Kim Dae-jung was today, so I watched that with Oh-nee. It was pretty long, so I fell asleep (playing baseball in the sun catches up to you!). Oops. Topped the night off with some good old-fashioned Korean baseball. The Jeollanam Tigers won, in case you were interested. My family was pretty happy. Okay, time to get my beauty sleep. Hopefully tomorrow my sunburn won't be quite so...bright? :) Thanks for reading!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Pictures Upsoyo still, sorry!

I'm not sure if you've heard, but it's all over the news here. Former president Kim Dae-jung passed away. I'd never heard of him before and felt really bad about not knowing him. My mom and dad have been glued to the TV for the past couple of days. Well, I finally got around to finding out who he is and it's kind of amazing. Here is a really good article about Kim Dae-jung titled, "Democracy is Not Free."

I've been taking it pretty easy at the old homestay. On Wednesday, Oh-Chahn ran into my room about 6:45 ish (I was kind of hoping he'd annouce that dinner was ready...) and said, "Sister, you go jogging now!" Yeah, it wasn't a question. And I'm always game for a run, so I suited up. Oh-nee (my mom) said, "Swimming" and "Membership," so I assumed we were going to a gym where Oh-nee and Oh-chahn would swim and I could run. Oh no. That was not it.

Instead, we drove to a huge indoor swimming pool. Oh-nee pointed to a sidewalk and said, "You go. Meet here [in Korea] 8:10 p.m." (about an hour from then) So, I headed toward the path and found myself running along a paved, lit and flat path along a river. I can't even begin to tell you how beautiful it was. I wish I had had my camera. The sun was setting when I began. The path was flanked on both sides by rice fields. Everywhere I looked was pink sky and mountains. Stunning. Probably the most beautiful run I've ever experienced.

I've ran on that path two more times since then and still haven't found the end (which is awesome! I think it's at least 6 miles long, probably more!). I also found an Olympic-sized public track and soccer field. It is beautiful. And all of this is a 3 minute jog (or six minute walk) from the apartment. Awesome!

The night got better. Oh-nee cooked me a beautiful egg, cheese and jam toast sandwich, which may sound weird but, after six weeks of no cheese, was probably the most beautiful thing in the world next to my U.S. family and the Gurye trail.

My dad and Oh-nee are not working tomorrow, and I think we're going on a road trip. Not sure, but I will keep you posted. I know for sure Oh-nee is taking me shopping for school supplies. It's weird to be on the teacher side of school supply shopping... :)

After posting, I decided that I needed pictures, so I took a walk and these are the highlights:

My Apartment Building - I live on the sixth floor

The Swimming Complex

Ever seen a rice field? This is what they look like. This was taken from the bike path

Taken from the same place but the other direction. Rice fields to the left, river to the right.

I just thought this one was funny.


My Room. Taken from the same position as Oh-chahn's picture but turned around.

Phone number

Okay, I have a phone number! You can call me from any American phone (land or mobile). It'll cost as much as it would to call someone in Downers Grove. My number is 630-427-4163.

I do not have a voice mail (as far as I can tell), so you will not be able to leave a message

I can receive text messages (costs the same as if I was living in Downers Grove)

You can call between 4 pm and 7 pm or 2 am and 9 am (your time). I will be sleeping or in school the rest of the time.

Okay, time for sleeping.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

New Address

One more thing: here is my new address:

Myeong-gi Apartment 101-607 Baengyeon-ri 575
Gurye-eup Guyre-gun, Jeollanam-do
(Seoul 542-802)

Or, if you want to practice your Korean:

명지 아파트 101 동 607 호

I'm not sure if the English one was translated correctly; there might be unnecessary information... maybe Youngmee could tell better.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Playing Catch Up

I am back! And I survived my three-day adventure, my six-hour journey to Guyre and meeting my host family. I think I am finally settled in, too. First things first, Seoul. I made a short video that, I think, sums up Seoul very nicely.

Seoul was probably the most fun I've ever had in a city. Saturday was Liberation Day - a huge national holiday to celebrate Korea's liberation from Japan. The entire weekend had a lot of free and interesting cultural events. It was the perfect weekend to visit. Just for the record, I want to state that I have never felt like such a fashion frump. It seemed like every girl on the street just jumped off of a runway. And then there were my friends and me: dressed in our typical American blue jeans, sneakers and $9.99 department store top.

I did go shopping in Seoul (of course!) and bought a few fashion essentials. I can't believe those words just came out of my finger tips. :)

On Monday I officially became an ETA and met my Principal and co-teacher. We, plus a geography teacher, drove from Seoul to Guyre. That was an interesting trip. Three men + me in a tiny Hyundai, with very little English. Needless to say, I started learning "survival Korean" immediately. It was actually a very pleasant ride, all in all, especially when the principal found out that I like to 놀래방 (karaoke).

Well, apparently Guyre is ridiculously small, because none of my three transporters live in the actual city. My principal lives in Gwangju (a huge city about an hour away) and the geography teacher lives in Sincheon (about 20 minues away). My co-teacher lives about 10 minutes outside of Guyre city limits. "Oh boy," I thought, "It's really happening. I am moving to a rice field."

While there were several lost-in-the-translation moments, the best one by far occurred while passing through my co-teacher's city. He said what sounded like, "I feel gas." Not sure if that ment he was about to bust loose with the belches and farts or not, I just said, "Ohhh, okay." Luckily, he meant that he needed gas...for the car. I breathed a sigh of relief as we pulled into the gas station.

I met my host family around 9:30 p.m. on Monday. They definitely fit my personality well. They are active but very realistic. I have two younger brothers: ages 8 and 10. Their names sound like "Oh-Meong" (10) and "Oh-Chahn" (8) (겅의찬 & 겅의명). I call my host mom "Oh-nee" (it means older sister/female figure) and haven't really called my host dad anything yet... :) I have a picture of Oh-Chahn and me fooling around with my computer. Oh-Meong has sort of been M.I.A. for the past day; I think he went to his grandparents.

I will post more pictures as I can get them. My father is a Government employee and my mom works for the Lions Club as a secretary part-time. The boys are still on summer break. School starts next Monday for us both!

Like every American family, every Korean family is a little different, so I didn't really know what to expect. One thing, I think I mentioned in previous posts, is the whole toilet paper thing. The sewer system cannot handle toilet paper, so you throw it in the wastebasket. Well, you can imagine my surprise when I discovered that the basket was outside of the bathroom. I thought that carrying used toilet paper outside of the bathroom would be quite odd in any culture, so I just air dried for the first few times (if you know what I mean). ALSO, they have one of those souped-up toilets. You know, the ones that give your fanny a bath and everything. I personally am a huge fan of the heated toilet seat.

Well, I came to find out through very intense observation that the toilet takes care of the toilet paper. Whew! First hurdle overcome!

The next is the whole door thing. We are not suppose to close our door; it's like me saying, "leave me alone." That's fine and dandy until you come to the changing/sleeping/showering part of the day. I'm still not really sure what to do, because I never see my family change, sleep or shower. And they won't go to bed before I do. So, I'm not really sure what to do. Right now I change in the corner of my room (door open), sleep with the door cracked and shower with the door closed. Eh. It'll have to do for now. I'll keep you all posted on the situation, though.

Yesterday my Mom took me around Guyre. It took about 15 minutes. It is very very small. We went to their art museum (which was really cool!). It was a one-room museum with "paintings" made completely out of pressed flowers. It was gorgeous! Oh-Chahn was sick, so we took him to the doctor in Guyre and then to one in the next, much larger town over. I visited my school briefly and received a cell phone (I'll activiate it with Skype soon so you all can call me!) and the option of a bicycle or moped. I chose the moped, which is coming on Monday. Sweet! Oh-Chahn and I spent most of the day playing card games and a short game of baseball. Huge baseball fans, my host family. Especially the Chicago Cubs. The card games are fun because the only deck I could find was my Obama deck, so whenever Oh-Chahn wants to play cards he says, "Play with Obama?"

This afternoon I am setting up my bank account with my co-teacher (Mr. Seol [설재문]) and either running by myself or hiking up a mountain with my Oh-nee...I'm not sure. It sort of got lost in the translation. I forgot to mention that Guyre is completely surrounded by mountains. Mountains in EVERY direction. It's crazy, but beautiful. More picutres to come, I promise!

Well, that's about all I have time for. Thanks for reading, and I promise to write more later!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Last Night In Chuncheon

Well, everything has come to the final night in Chuncheon. To be honest, I'm pretty emotional about it. I'm not crying or sulking or anything, but I am kind of coming down from an unknown high. Overall, orientation was probably the most fun six weeks I've ever had. I mean, come on! When will you ever get to be paid to hang out with 69 amazing people your age while taking classes whose grade does not mess up your future plans while bopping around the ultimate college city? But, all good things must come to an end. As a one of our speakers said, "All roads lead to somewhere." Our roads lead to different places, so we should just enjoy the time we spend while on the same road. Man, I really hate goodbyes.

Today we had our graduation ceremony. Yes, I graduated. I know basic Korean. Hurrah! But we had to say goodbye to our 선생님 (teachers), which was a lot harder than I thought. I mean, we saw each other five days a week for four hours a day for five weeks. Not to mention the out-of-class times; they lived right down the hall from me. They are probably the cutest people I have ever met. So that was hard.

Tomorrow we leave for a three-day trip to Seoul! I'm so excited! We will arrive Friday around noon, unpack, reunite with our other suitecase and head to a pool-side BBQ at the American Embassy. No big deal. Oh, did I mention that they will have veggie burgers???? Ahh! So excited! Saturday and Sunday are completely free (awesome!) and Monday we meet our host school principal and VP. Yikes! I will arrive at my homestay Monday night and probably start teaching Tuesday or Wednesday. Ahhhhh! People go to school for four years to be a teacher. I am doing it in six weeks! Scary!

So I will keep you posted as much as possible on this weekend. Be on the lookout for a video slideshow similar to the one from Songnisan.

Below are two videos: One that I made for the talent show (It's really long, but pretty funny) and one of my jump rope skit. :) There are also some pictures posted by others of me jump roping on facebook.

Well, sorry this is so short, but I'm about to head out for a "Last Night in Chuncheon" celebration. Thanks for reading!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Guyre High School - The Details

I just got more information about my school situation. I'm super excited! Dress = Jeans & T-shirt?? How did I luck out like that!? Just to give you an idea, most people teach more than 16 classes and about 500-1,000 students. I am also very thankful for a technology capable school...

Province Jeollanam-do
Location Gurye
School Name Gurye High School
Type Public

Grade levels taught High 1, 2
Hours taught per week Less than 15
Students taught Less than 300
Class contacts per week Three or more
Hours at school per day 7-8
Special advanced class Yes
Own classroom Yes
Taught from textbook Rarely
Created original lessons Frequently
Co-teacher in classroom Rarely
Handled own discipline issues Always
Other staff member handled discipline Never

Attend school on test days Never
Socialized with staff Frequently
Reward system for classroom Frequently
Taught winter break classes No
Daily Attire Casual; jeans and t-shirt
Lunch with teachers Cafeteria
School-provided computer Yes
Operating system Windows XP

Overhead projector Yes
DVD player Yes
Power Point PC Yes
Internet-capable Yes